Raumfahrt - NASA Mars Rover 2020 Mission-Update-13


NASA delays Mars rover launch to no earlier than July 30


A technical issue with the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket that will send NASA’s $2.4 billion Perseverance rover toward Mars has pushed the mission’s launch date back to no earlier than July 30, nearly two weeks into a month-long window for the rover to head to the Red Planet, or else face a two-year delay.

NASA confirmed the launch delay to no sooner than July 30 in a statement Tuesday.

“Due to launch vehicle processing delays in preparation for spacecraft mate operations, NASA and United Launch Alliance have moved the first launch attempt of the Mars 2020 mission to no earlier than July 30,” NASA said. “A liquid oxygen sensor line presented off-nominal data during the Wet Dress Rehearsal, and additional time is needed for the team to inspect and evaluate.”

ULA performed the Wet Dress Rehearsal on June 22. The exercise involved rolling the Perseverance rover’s Atlas 5 launcher out of its vertical integration hangar to Cape Canaveral’s Complex 41 launch pad, then loading the rocket with kerosene, liquid hydrogen, and liquid oxygen propellants.

The launch team practiced countdown procedures, testing the Atlas 5’s systems before halting the pre-launch sequence seconds before ignition of the rocket’s RD-180 main engine.

After draining cryogenic propellants from the rocket, ULA returned the Atlas 5 to the Vertical Integration Facility south of pad 41 on June 24 to await the arrival of the Perseverance rover, the centerpiece of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. ULA ground crews are also assessing the liquid oxygen sensor line that behaved unexpectedly during the Wet Dress Rehearsal.

The launch window July 30 opens at 7:50 a.m. EDT (1150 GMT). The Atlas 5 assigned to launch the Perseverance rover will fly in a configuration with four strap-on solid rocket boosters, a single-engine Centaur upper stage, and a 5.4-meter-diameter (17.7-foot) payload fairing.

The Mars 2020 mission was originally scheduled for launch July 17, the opening of an interplanetary launch period stretching several weeks in length. But several problems have delayed the launch date, eating into the limited period NASA has to vault the Mars 2020 mission off Earth on a trajectory toward Mars.

The launch period for the Mars 2020 mission originally ended Aug. 5, but NASA said earlier this month that additional analysis of the rover’s trajectory extended the available launch dates through Aug. 11. On Tuesday, NASA said flight analysis teams have added more days to the launch period, which now extends to Aug. 15.

Engineers are examining if the launch period may be extended further into August, according to NASA.

Spaceflight Now requested an interview Tuesday with NASA’s launch director for the Mars 2020 mission, but a NASA spokesperson could not provide the interview opportunity.

Nevertheless, the clock is ticking for the Mars 2020 team. Assuming the launch period closes Aug. 15, the mission has now used up nearly half of its launch period this year. The next chance to launch the Perseverance rover after this August will come in 2022.

“When you talk about Earth and Mars being on the same side of the sun, that happens once every 26 months,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a Mars 2020 pre-launch press conference earlier this month. “So it’s very expensive, if we have to take Perseverance and put it back into storage for a period of two years, it could cost half a billion dollars.”

NASA initially delayed the launch to July 20 after a problem with a crane held up assembly of the Atlas 5 rocket inside the VIF. A contamination concern issue with ground support equipment in NASA’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility — the ultra-clean room where the Perseverance rover is being readied for launch — delayed encapsulation of the spacecraft inside the Atlas 5’s aerodynamic payload shroud.

With the contamination concern resolved, NASA and ULA intended to transport the Mars 2020 spacecraft inside its payload fairing to the VIF on Saturday for installation on top of the Atlas 5 rocket.

But ULA needed extra time to address liquid oxygen sensor line issue, and a NASA spokesperson said Tuesday she did not know when the Mars rover could be transported to the Atlas 5 hangar. After the spacecraft is mated to the Atlas 5 rocket, teams need around 25 days to ready the vehicle for launch.

Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and CEO, tweeted Tuesday that the Atlas 5 and Mars 2020 teams have “been working through a couple of challenges.”

He identified the ground facility issue at the PHSF, and characterized the liquid oxygen system problem as a “misbehaving pressure sensor.” He also wrote that current status of the COVID-19 pandemic in Florida has been a concern.

Once the spacecraft is hoisted atop the Atlas 5 rocket, ground crews will install the Perseverance rover’s plutonium-fueled power source through a port in the side of the Atlas 5’s payload fairing. The Mars rover — about the size of a small car — will be powered by the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, or MMRTG, throughout its mission.

Assuming it launches this year, the Perseverance rover will land on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, aiming for a region known as Jezero Crater. Scientists say Jezero is home to an ancient dried-up river delta, where the rover will get to work with its scientific instruments studying Martian geology and climate.

One of the rover’s primary missions is to gather dozens of rock and soil samples inside hyper-sterile tubes, which the rover will hermetically seal and drop in caches on the Martian surface for retrieval by a future robotic sample return mission.

Quelle: SN


Update: 3.07.2020


Launch of NASA's Mars Perseverance rover gets delayed again


NASA is now targeting "no earlier than" July 30 for the launch of its Mars Perseverance rover, another delay for the time-sensitive launch.

The launch must occur during a window that allows for a direct path to Mars as both planets are aligned on the same side of the sun. This window was originally set to end Aug. 11, but flight analysis teams have expanded launch opportunities to Aug. 15 and are examining if the launch period could be extended further into August, according to a NASA blog post.

More on the mission: NASA prepares to launch Perseverance rover seeking signs of ancient life on Mars

If the rover is not launched within this window, Perseverance will have to wait another 26 months for the next launch opportunity.

Perseverance is traveling to Mars to search for signs of ancient life and to test technologies that could one day help humans land on Mars. It's set to launch on United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket.

This most recent delay was caused by rocket processing issues in preparation for attaching the rover's spacecraft. During a wet dress rehearsal, where the rocket is loaded with propellant to check out its various systems, a liquid oxygen sensor line presented "off-nominal data" that will require extra time to inspect and evaluate.

Quelle: Houston Chronicle


Update: 4.07.2020


Mars Perseverance launch delayed; NASA not asking people to stay at home for launch


NASA's Mars Perseverance rover is scheduled to launch July 20, 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 41 and head on a seven-month journey to the red planet where it will search for past signs of extraterrestrial life.

NASA's Mars Perseverance launch, which will send a rover and a helicopter to the red planet later this month has been delayed. Again.

The mission is now slated to launch atop United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket July 30 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 41. 

Originally scheduled to launch July 17, the mission pushed to July 20 to allow ULA teams to make repairs to ground system equipment.

The launch date was then pushed again to July 22 due to a ground support systems issue identified during the packing of the spacecraft in the rocket's fairing. On Tuesday, NASA announced the launch was again delayed due to an issue during the Wet Dress Rehearsal, which is a test to verify the rocket is ready for flight. 

NASA and ULA have until August 15 to launch Mars Perseverance, however, teams are looking to see if they could potentially launch later in August if the need arises.

In order to launch to Mars, Earth and Mars must be on the same side of the sun, which only happens every 26 months. That means if teams are unable to launch during this specific time window, the spacecraft will be forced to go into storage for two years until the next possible opportunity. 


NASA's Mars Ingenuity helicopter will be the first spacecraft to fly on another planet.

This is problematic because it could cost the space agency roughly half a million dollars to store Mars Perseverance, which is why this launch was considered an essential mission when the coronavirus pandemic first struck. 

Unlike with SpaceX's historic mission, which sent NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station from American soil — a feat not seen since the shuttle days — the space agency is not asking people to stay at home to view the Mars Perseverance launch.

"Certainly, people are going to travel. We asked people not to travel for DM-2, which was, of course, the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon and Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the capsule, but it appears people didn't listen to us," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters during a media teleconference last month. "So, we're asking people to follow all of the necessary guidelines to keep themselves safe and we're trusting them."

NASA's Mars missions have always drawn crowds. For its last rover mission — named Curiosity — which launched in 2011, over 13,000 people were at Kennedy Space Center to view the launch and thousands more watched along the banks of the Indian River in Titusville, Jetty Park, Cocoa Beach and other prime public viewing sites.

Though KSC will be closed to outsiders for this launch, viewers can still watch the launch at the KSC Visitor Complex or any of the beach access points.

Yet as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Florida — there were over 10,000 new recorded cases reported in the state and 218 in Brevard as of Thursday — health officials urge people to avoid big crowds and to wear masks to help stop the spread of the virus.

The Mars Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter will attempt to search for signs of past life on the Martian surface and will collect rock samples to return back to Earth, something that has never been attempted before.

The mission will also be the first time a helicopter flies on Mars. 

"Perseverance is the most sophisticated mission we've ever sent to the red planet surface," NASA's Planetary Science Division director Lori Glaze said during the teleconference.

In total, the mission is expected to last about ten years from the time Perseverance lands on Mars to when the sample returns are sent back to Earth.

Quelle: Florida Today


Update: 10.07.2020


NASA's Perseverance Rover Attached to Atlas V Rocket


The nose cone containing the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover sits atop a motorized payload transporter at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 7, 2020.
Credits: NASA/KSC

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover has been attached to the top of the rocket that will send it toward the Red Planet this summer. Encased in the nose cone that will protect it during launch, the rover and the rest of the Mars 2020 spacecraft – the aeroshell, cruise stage, and descent stage – were affixed to a United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster on Tuesday, July 7, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Central Florida.


The process began when a 60-ton hoist on the roof of the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 lifted the nose cone, otherwise known as the payload fairing, 129 feet (39 meters) to the top of the waiting rocket. There, engineers made the physical and electrical connections that will remain between booster and spacecraft until about 50 to 60 minutes after launch, when the two are pyrotechnically separated and Perseverance is on its way.

"I have seen my fair share of spacecraft being lifted onto rockets," said John McNamee, project manager for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "But this one is special because there are so many people who contributed to this moment. To each one of them I want to say, we got here together, and we'll make it to Mars the same way."


With the mating of spacecraft and booster complete, the final testing of the two (separately and as one unit) will be underway. Then two days before the July 30 launch, the Atlas V will leave the Vertical Integration Facility for good. Traveling by rail, it will cover the 1,800 feet (550 meters) to the launch pad in about 40 minutes. From there, Perseverance has about seven months and 290 million miles (467 million kilometers) to go before arriving at Mars.


The nose cone containing NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is maneuvered into place atop its Atlas V rocket. The image was taken at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 7, 2020.
Credits: NASA/KSC

The Launch Period


NASA and United Launch Alliance recently updated the mission's launch period – the range of days the rocket can launch in order to reach Mars. It now spans from July 30 to Aug. 15.


The launch period opening changed from July 17 to 30 due to launch vehicle processing delays in preparation for spacecraft mate operations. Four days were also added to the previously designated Aug. 11 end of the launch period. NASA and United Launch Alliance Flight Teams were able to provide those extra days after final weights of both the spacecraft and launch vehicle became available, allowing them to more accurately calculate the propellant available to get Perseverance on its way.


No matter what day Perseverance lifts off during its July 30 to Aug. 15 launch period, it will land in Mars' Jezero Crateron Feb. 18, 2021. Targeting landing for one specific date and time helps mission planners better understand lighting and temperature at the landing site, as well as the location of Mars-orbiting satellites tasked with recording and relaying spacecraft data during its descent and landing. 


More About the Mission


Managed by JPL, the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover's astrobiology mission will search for signs of ancient microbial life. It will also characterize the planet's climate and geology, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first planetary mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust). Subsequent missions, currently under consideration by NASA in cooperation with the European Space Agency, would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.


NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover waits to be lifted onto its Atlas V launch vehicle at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 7, 2020.
Credits: NASA/KSC


The Mars 2020 mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA's Artemis lunar exploration plans.

Quelle: NASA


Update: 14.07.2020


Northrop Grumman to Provide Extended Life Capability for Perseverance Mars Rover Mission

This summer, Northrop Grumman is playing an important role in a historic phase of Mars exploration. Northrop Grumman’s LN-200S inertial measurement unit (IMU) will provide extended life inertial navigation for NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) Perseverance Mars Rover, a mission that will seek signs of ancient life on the Red Planet.


The Perseverance Rover will feature Northrop Grumman's LN-200S inertial measurement unit. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The design life of the Perseverance Rover mission is about 1,071 Earth days (1.5 Mars year); however, NASA JPL required Northrop Grumman’s technology to be rigorously tested to double that time. This is a performance threshold the company felt confident it could meet after the success of the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which launched in 2003 and featured the LN-200S. Both missions had a 90 Earth day design life, but the Opportunity rover ended up stretching to almost 15 Earth years (8 Mars years).

 “Northrop Grumman’s LN-200S has significant space heritage, offering proven capability and reliability in the demanding space flight environment on board many spacecraft in low earth, GEO orbit, and has travelled to a variety of heavenly bodies including Earth’s moon, Mars and asteroids,” said Brandon White, vice president, navigation and positioning systems, Northrop Grumman. “Our IMU will play an essential part in the Perseverance Rover’s navigation as NASA pursues its long-term scientific mission.”

The LN-200S — part of the LN-200 product line of fiber-optic gyroscope (FOG) IMUs — will provide attitude and acceleration information throughout the Perseverance Mars Rover surface mission. It will be mounted deep inside the Rover as the vehicle traverses the planet’s surface and drills to collect core samples. The low cost, small size, weight and power (SWAP) LN-200S features three FOG gyroscopes and three silicon Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) accelerometers in a hermetically sealed package ideal for space applications, including asteroid and planetary probes.


The LN-200S is a small, lightweight fiber-optic inertial measurement unit with three gyroscopes and three silicon Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems accelerometers.

The rigorous process to test the IMU’s extended life capability began more than three years ago. Ultimately, NASA JPL concluded that the standard LN-200S product met the requirements for the Perseverance Rover without any modification.

Northrop Grumman’s proven reliability in previous Mars Rovers missions, which also includes the still operating Curiosity that has been working on Mars almost eight years beyond its initial two-year mission, is a result of extensive collaboration between Northrop Grumman teams in Woodland Hills, California and Salt Lake City, Utah. The Perseverance Rover mission is currently expected to launch out of Cape Canaveral, Florida in July or August.

More than 35,000 LN-200 IMUs have been delivered since 1994, and they have been used on a variety of applications from undersea to outer space. The small, lightweight IMU product line is available in several configurations including the base LN-200, ITAR-free LN-200C, the enhanced LN-200E (with ~2X increased performance), and upcoming LN-200HP (with ~7X increase performance).

Quelle: Northrop Grumman


Update: 16.07.2020


6 Things to Know About NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter


In this illustration, NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter stands on the Red Planet's surface as NASA's Perseverance rover (partially visible on the left) rolls away. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


When NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida later this summer, an innovative experiment will ride along: the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. Ingenuity may weigh only about 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms), but it has some outsize ambitions.

"The Wright Brothers showed that powered flight in Earth's atmosphere was possible, using an experimental aircraft," said Håvard Grip, Ingenuity's chief pilot at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "With Ingenuity, we're trying to do the same for Mars."

Here are six things you should know about the first helicopter going to another planet:

1. Ingenuity is a flight test.

Ingenuity is what is known as a technology demonstration - a project that seeks to test a new capability for the first time, with limited scope. Previous groundbreaking technology demonstrations include the Mars Pathfinder rover Sojourner and the tiny Mars Cube One(MarCO) CubeSats that flew by Mars in 2018.

Ingenuity features four specially made carbon-fiber blades, arranged into two rotors that spin in opposite directions at around 2,400 rpm - many times faster than a passenger helicopter on Earth. It also has innovative solar cells, batteries, and other components. Ingenuity doesn't carry science instruments and is a separate experiment from the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover.

2. Ingenuity will be the first aircraft to attempt controlled flight on another planet.

NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will make history's first attempt at powered flight on another planet next spring. It is riding with the agency's next mission to Mars (the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover) as it launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station later this summer. Perseverance, with Ingenuity attached to its belly, will land on Mars February 18, 2021.

What makes it hard for a helicopter to fly on Mars? For one thing, Mars' thin atmosphere makes it difficult to achieve enough lift. Because the Mars atmosphere is 99% less dense than Earth's, Ingenuity has to be light, with rotor blades that are much larger and spin much faster than what would be required for a helicopter of Ingenuity's mass on Earth.

It can also be bone-chillingly cold at Jezero Crater, where Perseverance will land with Ingenuity attached to its belly in February 2021. Nights there dip down to minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius). While Ingenuity's team on Earth has tested the helicopter at Martian temperatures and believes it should work on Mars as intended, the cold will push the design limits of many of Ingenuity's parts.

In addition, flight controllers at JPL won't be able to control the helicopter with a joystick. Communication delays are an inherent part of working with spacecraft across interplanetary distances. Commands will need to be sent well in advance, with engineering data coming back from the spacecraft long after each flight takes place. In the meantime, Ingenuity will have a lot of autonomy to make its own decisions about how to fly to a waypoint and keep itself warm.

3. Ingenuity is a fitting name for a robot that is the result of extreme creativity.

High school student Vaneeza Rupani of Northport, Alabama, originally submitted the name Ingenuity for the Mars 2020 rover, before it was named Perseverance, but NASA officials recognized the submission as a terrific name for the helicopter, given how much creative thinking the team employed to get the mission off the ground.

"The ingenuity and brilliance of people working hard to overcome the challenges of interplanetary travel are what allow us all to experience the wonders of space exploration," Rupani wrote. "Ingenuity is what allows people to accomplish amazing things."

Mars Helicopter
In February 2021, NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover and NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter (shown in an artist's concept) will be the agency's two newest explorers on Mars. Both were named by students as part of an essay contest. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
› Full image and caption

4. Ingenuity has already demonstrated feats of engineering.

In careful steps from 2014 to 2019, engineers at JPL demonstrated that it was possible to build an aircraft that was lightweight, able to generate enough lift in Mars' thin atmosphere, and capable of surviving in a Mars-like environment. They tested progressively more advanced models in special space simulators at JPL. In January 2019, the actual helicopter that is riding with Perseverance to the Red Planet passed its final flight evaluation. Failing any one of these milestones would've grounded the experiment.

5. The Ingenuity team will count success one step at a time.

Given the firsts Ingenuity is trying to accomplish, the team has a long list of milestonesthey'll need to pass before the helicopter can take off and land in the spring of 2021. The team will celebrate each time they meet one. The milestones include:

  • Surviving the launch from Cape Canaveral, the cruise to Mars, and landing on the Red Planet
  • Safely deploying to the surface from Perseverance's belly
  • Autonomously keeping warm through the intensely cold Martian nights
  • Autonomously charging itself with its solar panel

And then Ingenuity will make its first flight attempt. If the helicopter succeeds in that first flight, the Ingenuity team will attempt up to four other test flights within a 30-Martian-day (31-Earth-day) window.

6. If Ingenuity succeeds, future Mars exploration could include an ambitious aerial dimension.

Mars Helicopter
When NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter attempts its first test flight on the Red Planet, the agency's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will be close by, as seen in this artist's concept. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
› Full image and caption

Ingenuity is intended to demonstrate technologies needed for flying in the Martian atmosphere. If successful, these technologies could enable other advanced robotic flying vehicles that might be included in future robotic and human missions to Mars. They could offer a unique viewpoint not provided by current orbiters high overhead or by rovers and landers on the ground, provide high-definition images and reconnaissance for robots or humans, and enable access to terrain that is difficult for rovers to reach.

"The Ingenuity team has done everything to test the helicopter on Earth, and we are looking forward to flying our experiment in the real environment at Mars," said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity's project manager at JPL. "We'll be learning all along the way, and it will be the ultimate reward for our team to be able to add another dimension to the way we explore other worlds in the future."

Quelle: NASA


Update: 20.07.2020


Gearing up for a ‘monumental’ mission to Mars

Engineer and roboticist Zach Ousnamer is helping to prepare NASA’s Perseverance rover for its launch to the red planet.
Zach Ousnamer is the integration and test engineer for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Credit: Rocco Ceselin for Nature

They call me a mechatronics engineer — a hybrid between a roboticist and a mechanical engineer. In the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, we build and test spacecraft and rovers, the vehicles that can traverse the surface of a destination.

In February, we finished the main assembly of the Mars 2020 rover, Perseverance — due to launch this month or in August — whose mission is to seek signs of ancient life. What’s exciting about this rover is that it can take samples of Martian soil, analyse them and seal them in containers for a future mission to collect and bring back to Earth. The rover’s complex machinery can drill down to extract core samples 4–5 centimetres long, then bring them inside the rover to process and photograph.

On any mission, we try to ensure that no volatile chemicals, plastics or paints are deposited on sensitive surfaces such as optical lenses. We also take care to avoid contaminating the Mars surface with Earth organisms such as bacteria or spores, which could interfere with getting accurate results. We work in the giant ‘clean room’ seen here. Before entering, we put on full protective gear: little has changed at the JPL in that respect since the COVID-19 lockdown began.

With Mars 2020, we have to be even more careful because some of the samples collected will come back. When we’re working with equipment that will process soil cores, we wear an extra set of single-use, sterile gloves, and a sterile lab gown and goggles. A buddy hands me tools, anything I need, so that I don’t contaminate my gloves.

Since February, I’ve been based at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, helping to put the finishing touches to the rover.

As I ungown for the day, it’s nice to take a step back and think how we’ve sent rovers to other planets only a handful of times. It’s pretty monumental.

Quelle: Nature


Update: 24.07.2020


NASA is prepared for the risks of launching nuclear-powered rover


The payload fairing, or nose cone, containing the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover sits atop the motorized payload transporter that will carry it to Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The image was taken on July 7, 2020.

Every rocket launch is inherently dangerous, but the upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission has an added risk of releasing radioactive material used to power the rover if something goes wrong.

But the risk of any radioactive material being released over the Space Coast is extremely low, NASA officials say, and the likelihood of anybody being harmed by it is even lower.

“Within that first minute or so is the only chance that we have of the launch area really being put under concern,” explained Bob Holl, the NASA official leading the radiological response planning for the launch scheduled for July 30.

“The most probable outcome of the launch is a successful mission. That’s certainly why NASA is using the most reliable launch vehicle that is out there,” he said.  

The Perseverance rover is set to blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on July 30 and journey to Mars to explore and for the first time ever collect rock samples.

To power the rover during its perilous mission on the Red Planet, it’s equipped with a nuclear generator which is an updated version of the same one used on the Curiosity rover.

Built by the Department of Energy, the “radioisotope thermoelectric generator” contains 10.6 pounds of plutonium dioxide as a heat source to produce electricity on the rover and warm its internal systems during the freezing Martian nights.

According to NASA the chances of a catastrophic nuclear incident is very small.

There is about a 1 in 1,100 chance of an accident that would release some amount of plutonium dioxide within 62 miles of the launch site. 

The fuel is surrounded by several layers of protective material and is manufactured in a ceramic form that resists being broken into fine pieces, reducing the chance that hazardous material could become airborne or ingested.

In the unlikely event of a release of radioactive fuel in the launch area, the estimated maximum dose of radiation an individual might receive is about 210 millirem which is similar to the amount an airline flight attendant receives annually while flying. 

On average Americans receive a radiation dose of 620 millirem each year from natural and man-made sources such as cosmic rays from space, radon in the Earth’s soil and medical procedures like a dental x-ray according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

“The launch area in terms of where debris could fall would be the actual Air Force station,” NASA’s Steve Cole explained, “but if the wind is blowing inland then there’s the potential, if there’s an accident and if radiological materials have been released it could move in the air inland into Brevard County.  

Kennedy Space Center’s Holl leads the 100-plus person team ready to respond to a radiological emergency. They have been training for three years for this mission which included a simulation exercise with the Department of Energy.

About half the team will be in the field supporting the sensors that measure radioactive levels which are located throughout Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Brevard. The other half of the team are analyzing that data, determining actions and communicating with the public if anything happens. 

“The best thing to go do is shelter in place. If you are outside, go indoors. If you’re in a car, roll up your windows and limit the intake of outside air,” Holl said.

"Mostly we're worried about it coming down and settling into the soil and it's going to be absorbed into your vegetables or your livestock might eat the grass," said Jesi Ray, social media specialist for Brevard County EOC which has worked hand in hand with NASA on the emergency response. 

NASA is working closely with representatives with the state of Florida, the 45th Space Wing, Department of Environmental Protection and Brevard County to be able to quickly disseminate information to residents if necessary. Two representative from Brevard will be on location at Kennedy Space Center during the launch to communicate safety instructions on social media.  

“The coordination is extremely tight because literally these people are sitting next to each other in the same room to help coordinate,” Cole said.

To receive emergency messages directly from the Brevard County Emergency Management, text BrevardEOC (all one word) to the number 888777. 

Launches carrying radioactive material are not not new to Brevard. The last launch from the Space Coast that carried a radioactive risk factor was the Mars Curiosty rover in 2011. Before that it was the New Horizons mission to Pluto in 2000. All launched successfully with no incident.

“Just be ready in case the worst thing happens but it’s a great opportunity and the most likely outcome to see a new spacecraft on its way to Mars,” Holl said.

Quelle: Florida Today


Update: 27.07.2020


Stanford scientists anticipate the Mars 2020 rover launch

According to Stanford University Mars experts, NASA’s latest Martian rover will drive a wave of exciting discoveries when it lands on the Red Planet – and possibly alter scientists’ understanding of the blue one it launches from.

Despite a global pandemic and some technical delays, NASA’s 2020 Mars Rover – the aptly named Perseverance – is scheduled to launch this summer (currently slated for July 30) on a groundbreaking endeavor. Traveling from Earth to Mars is best done when the planets orbit nearest one another, providing only a narrow window of opportunity (rover pun intended) between mid-July and mid-August to start the journey. Its success will be the opening salvo in an ambitious series of missions designed to bring samples of Martian crust to Earth for the first time for study.

Go to the web site to view the video.

Kurt Hickman

NASA’s 2020 Mars Rover – the aptly named Perseverance – is scheduled to launch this summer on a groundbreaking endeavor.

“Rovers are the closest we can get to having a geologist on Mars at the moment, so any new rover data is really valuable,” said Mathieu Lapôtre, an assistant professor of geological science at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth) who researches the geological processes that shape planetary surfaces. “Every time we have a rover like this, a wave of discoveries follows. It’s a very exciting time.”

Stanford scholars have a long history of contributing to NASA’s space missions – including the design of technologies sent into space, guidance and control of spacecraft. That tradition continues with this latest Mars mission. For example, Marco Pavone, a former research technologist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), helped develop algorithms to optimize the selection of landing spots on Mars – in the case of Perseverance, an ancient meteorite impact site known as the Jezero Crater, or the Jezero Delta.

Even though NASA has an impressive track record of landing rovers on Mars, Pavone cautions against underestimating the adventure ahead. “Landing on Mars is a tremendous challenge,” said Pavone, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics and director of Stanford’s Autonomous Systems Laboratory. “Even if we did it successfully in the past, it is certainly not a done deal.”

Building upon a history of Mars missions

Perseverance is the fifth Mars rover from NASA, following Curiosity, Opportunity, Spirit, and the original Mars rover, Sojourner, named for civil rights activist Sojourner Truth. That first trailblazing rover arrived on Mars in 1997 equipped with few instruments and only able to venture roughly 40 feet from its lander, Pathfinder. “But the key requirement to demonstrate mobility on another planet was met,” said Scott Hubbard, an adjunct professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford; Hubbard was the first Mars program director at NASA Headquarters, where he earned the nickname of “Mars Czar.”

Each rover since Sojourner has been sent to Mars with more sophisticated instruments, expanded capabilities and more ambitious goals. Curiosity directly preceded Perseverance and has the most in common with it, including size – which is roughly that of a small SUV. “To save money, the Perseverance rover was required to be a near duplicate of Curiosity wherever possible, even using leftover parts,” said Hubbard, who also authored Exploring Mars: Chronicles from a Decade of Discovery.

Perseverance will pick up where Curiosity left off. After landing in February 2021, the rover will roam the planet for at least one Mars year, which is roughly equal to two Earth years. Its tool suite includes a novel drilling and storage mechanism to extract and cache roughly 30 rock samples. This is the rover’s most critical function, according to Hubbard, because the plan is to retrieve those samples with a future “fetch rover,” shoot them into Martian orbit and eventually return them to Earth, where they will be analyzed for “fingerprints of life.” “Getting those samples back to Earth has been the ‘holy grail’ of Mars science for almost 50 years,” Hubbard said.

Once the Martian rocks are on Earth, they will be quarantined for safety, and then subjected to a battery of tests and measurements that cannot be performed on Mars itself. “With Curiosity, we are looking for habitable environments and organic molecules,” said Lapôtre. “But without bringing the samples back to Earth, it is really difficult to tell for sure if what we found was biogenic – formed by something that was alive – or abiogenic, meaning the organic molecules are not related in any way to life.”

It’s been a long road to reach this point. When the Mars Exploration Program was being revived by Hubbard’s team in the early 2000s after two mission failures, he believed the scientific, engineering and technology requirements of a sample return mission were too daunting to tackle. “Twenty years later, the suite of missions, orbiters and rovers that came out of our re-planning effort have yielded a wealth of knowledge about the Red Planet,” said Hubbard, “including the ability to now select the all-important site for a sample return.”

Location, location, location: Picking the right landing site

Real estate agents will tell you that the value of a property has more to do with location than anything else; a landing site is not much different. Pavone describes the process of selecting the site as finding the “sweet spot” on the planet’s surface that strikes a balance between scientific potential and risk to the rover.

“This specific landing site was chosen because of its promise in terms of astrobiological potential,” said Lapôtre. “In my opinion, it was very well chosen. Whether we find evidence for ancient life or not, I am convinced that we will learn a lot about the ancient environment on Mars.”

Jezero Crater was once a lake formed by an ancient river filling a meteor impact crater. “It makes for a great place to look for evidence of life,” said Lapôtre, “because, like the Nile or the Mississippi, this river likely picked up sediments and any forms of life that may have existed along its course and concentrated them in one place.”

The Jezero location is also older than previous rover landing sites – somewhere around 3.7 billion years, which is when scientists believe Mars may have been habitable. Any life on Mars at the time would consist of simple unicellular organisms like microbes. So scientists must look for biomarkers – pieces of organic molecules or chemical indicators – that these living things could have left behind in the rocky surface, rather than bones or fossils.

Another advantage of this site is that it could allow scientists to test the hypothesis that ancient organisms on Mars lived in the subsurface. “This crater punctured through the Martian surface to expose ancient rocks,” said Janice Bishop, a senior research scientist for the SETI Institute and a Stanford alumnus. Bishop utilizes remote sensing to study rocks on the surface of the Red Planet to gain insights about Mars’ watery past, so this mission is of particular interest as the selected landing site features an ancient river delta. “Perseverance is expected to reveal secrets about the early history of water on Mars,” Bishop added.

Like Mars, Earth was devoid of large organisms for most of its history, such that its geological processes were largely unaffected by macroscopic life. However, Earth’s surface is constantly recycled through the continual shifting of continent-sized plates; this process is known as plate tectonics and does not occur on Mars. “A lot of us are super excited about how this information could improve our understanding of Earth before there was life,” said Lapôtre. “I will definitely use the mission data in my research program, and have PhD students combine rover and orbiter data to answer questions about the geologic history of Mars.”

Information gleaned from the ancient river that once emptied into Jezero crater could change how scientists think about how rivers form, and tie into global carbon cycles and climate – not only on Mars but also Earth and other planets.

Testing new technologies on Mars

Perseverance will be breaking new technological ground as well on this mission. “Continuing in the tradition of using each Mars mission as a technology test-bed for new future capabilities, the rover will bring along a very small, four-pound helicopter,” said Hubbard. Dubbed Ingenuity, the copter will be the first flying vehicle on another planet and will have to navigate the frigid nights and dust-filled skies of Mars while operating in an atmosphere that is 100 times thinner than Earth’s.

“Sojourner was itself a technology demonstration to prove wheeled mobility on Mars,” said Pavone. “Who knows what we’ll be able to do another 20 years down the road once we prove we can fly helicopters on Mars?”

Nineteen high-resolution cameras on the 2020 rover should provide unprecedented images of the Martian surface, as well as the landing process. Perseverance is also equipped with an instrument called Moxie, which will test the potential of converting Mars’ thin atmosphere into oxygen for future human explorers.

“If this were a perfect world, humans will be arriving on Mars in 2033,” said Hubbard. “This seems to be far in the future, but it is literally around the corner in space mission terms.”

Quelle: Stanford University


Nasa Mars rover: Meteorite to head home to Red Planet


A section of the Sayh al Uhaymir 008 meteorite which was found in Oman in 1999

A small chunk of Mars will be heading home when the US space agency launches its latest rover mission on Thursday.

Nasa's Perseverance robot will carry with it a meteorite that originated on the Red Planet and which, until now, has been lodged in the collection of London's Natural History Museum (NHM).

The rock's known properties will act as a calibration target to benchmark the workings of a rover instrument.

It will give added confidence to any discoveries the robot might make.

This will be particularly important if Perseverance stumbles across something that hints at the presence of past life on the planet - one of the mission's great quests.

"This little rock's got quite a life story," explained Prof Caroline Smith, head of Earth sciences collections at the NHM and a member of the Perseverance science team.

"It formed about 450 million years ago, got blasted off Mars by an asteroid or comet roughly 600,000-700,000 years ago, and then landed on Earth; we don't know precisely when but perhaps 1,000 years ago. And now it's going back to Mars," she told BBC News.

Media captionProf Caroline Smith: "It gives me a tingling feeling to hold something that came from Mars"

Discovered in the deserts of Oman in 1999, the meteorite, known as Sayh al Uhaymir 008, or SaU 008, is a classic piece of basalt - very similar to the type of igneous rock you will find, for example, at Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.

It contains lots of pyroxene, olivine and feldspar minerals. And it's this well-studied chemistry, together with the meteorite's textures, that make it so useful for Perseverance.

The rock has been put in a housing, along with nine other types of material, on the front of the rover where it will be scanned from time to time by the Sherloc instrument.

This is a tool that contains two imagers and two laser spectroscopes, which together will investigate the geology of the rover's landing site - a 40km-wide crater called Jezero.

Satellite images suggest the bowl once held a lake, and scientists consider it to be one of the best places on Mars to try to find evidence of past microbial activity - if ever that took place.

Giant's causewayImage copyrightPA MEDIA
Image captionGiant's causeway: The World Heritage site is made from columns of basalt rock
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Sherloc will study the local rocks and soil, looking for signatures of ancient biology.

What scientists don't want, however, is to have what they think is a "eureka moment" only to then realise Sherloc had developed some systematic error in its observations.

"We'll look at the calibration target in the first 60-90 days and perhaps not again for six months because we think the instrument is really very stable," said Dr Luther Beegle, Sherloc's principal investigator from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"But if we start seeing interesting things on the surface of Mars that we can't explain in the spectra, then we'll look back to the calibration target to make sure that the instrument's working correctly.

"I think the best we're going to be able to do from a scientific perspective is identify what we would call a 'potential bio-signature'.

"I don't think we'll ever be necessarily 100% sure because that's a hard measurement to make, which is why the sample-return aspect of Perseverance is so important."

Artwork: Perseverance roverImage copyrightNASA-JPL
Image captionArtwork: The Sherloc instrument is in the turret on the end of the robotic arm

The rover will package its most interesting rock samples into small tubes that will be left on the surface of Mars for retrieval and return to Earth by later missions.

Prof Smith is hopeful she'll get to work on this material, which could come back in the next 10-15 years.

The NHM expert is on an international panel that will determine how best to handle the extra-terrestrial rocks.

"I'm actually leading the curation focus group," she told BBC News. "By this time next year, we should have a really good plan for the sort of building we will need, the types of processes that will be happening in that building, and how we'll actually start curating the samples and making them available to scientists for study."

Media captionHow long does it take to get to Mars and why is it so difficult?

Researchers will have a much better chance of confirming life on Mars if they can assess the evidence using all the analytical tools available in Earth laboratories, as opposed to just the small suite of instruments carried by a robot rover.

Nasa's Perseverance rover is scheduled to lift off on a United Launch Alliance Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, during a two-hour window on Thursday that begins at 07:50 local time (11:50 GMT; 12:50 BST).

The slice of SaU 008 won't be the only Martian meteorite on board. The rover's SuperCam instrument will have its own piece of Mars rock, again to act as a calibration target.

Sherloc calibration targets
Image copyrightNASA-JSC
Image captionThe meteorite is one of several calibration items to be employed by Sherloc. Others include materials that coul
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